Asexual evolution: do intragenomic parasites maintain sex?


Bernard Crespi, Fax: +1 778 782 3496; E-mail:


Resolving the paradox of sex, with its twofold cost to genic transmission, remains one of the major unresolved questions in evolutionary biology. Counting this genetic cost has now gone genomic. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Kraaijeveld et al. (2012) describe the first genome-scale comparative study of related sexual and asexual animal lineages, to test the hypothesis that asexuals bear heavier loads of deleterious transposable elements. A much higher density of such parasites might be expected, due to the inability of asexual lineages to purge transposons via mechanisms exclusive to sexual reproduction. They find that the answer is yes—and no—depending upon the family of transposons considered. Like many such advances in testing theory, more questions are raised by this study than answered, but a door has been opened to molecular evolutionary analyses of how responses to selection from intragenomic parasites might mediate the costs of sex.